Mr. Smith's Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in the Neighborhood for teachers everywhere! Anything and everything is fair game!

Sacrificing Privacy for an Illusion of Safety May 24, 2006

One has to wonder loudly about the gullibility of American people. Unfortunately, I have too often been a part of it as I pursued the "American Nightmare" by driving to a workplace where I didn't want to be, working for people that I would not call my friends (even if it meant having a full meal after starving for a month) … all so I could have my car, my TV, my remote and my little piece of the American dream.

In the meantime, as I realized in the nick of time, I was selling my soul and my intellect to Corporate America and the Government. And while I was sleepwalking, my best friend Tim (whom I have known since 1968) was looking for every soap box and podium that he could find to decry NAFTA and the US PATRIOT Act. Tim has one of the greatest minds I have ever encountered with the possible exception of Lewis Black and a few great instructors at Drexel.

In order to catch terrorists, the government acting under the veil of the US PATRIOT Act can collect more types of information, it can collect it in better ways, and there are more reasons to collect information (by narrowing the gaps between criminal and terrorist investigations). So, in the name of freedom and the defense of my country against terrorists, the government can violate people's privacy and collect more information about terrorists, criminals … AND ME!

I thought the last exciting episode violating the privacy of Americans, the Nixon Years, had shown what happens when you get caught. All the pundits at the time said that the spying, wiretaps and other hijinks had been going on for years but that Nixon was just dumb enough to get caught.The simple fact that the US PATRIOT Act allows for the possibility of excesses by law enforcement and government officials is not a comforting thought. If the possibility is there, one must assume that it will happen (and probably already has).

Privacy is a key component of democracy (no one part, such as free speech or freedom of religion, is better than the other … they all work together). I have kept asking myself all week, "How can I feel free when the government or corporations or big brother can violate my privacy either legally or illegally?" In a world where technology should be liberating us, those who control it are making us prisoners.

Now, I am not silly enough to think that I am on anybody's list of subversives or people that require monitoring, nor do I have anything of interest for them to find out. That does NOT mean that I should have to be mellow about the fact that someone in the FBI or CIA or the Catholic Church is reading what I am writing as I type it.

You can talk about the SAFE Act or other modifications to the US PATRIOT Act, but there can be no compromise. Frankly, if the government wants to spy on us, they are going to spy. If we are to be a free nation that values or privacy and our rights, then we may have to have a little less security. And we need to keep the corporations out of our homes, computers and bank accounts. Rather than worry about what terrorist activities may be happening in some Midwest library, why doesn't the government shut down the guys who assault our freedom, intelligence and sensibility everyday?

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